What we learned from England v Barbarians

England’s George Kruis 7/3/2020
England returned to action for the first time since their 2022 Guinness Six Nations campaign with a 52-21 loss against 14-man Barbarians in an uncapped clash at Twickenham.

England returned to action for the first time since their 2022 Guinness Six Nations campaign with a 52-21 loss against 14-man Barbarians in an uncapped clash at Twickenham.

A mixture of regulars and stand-ins, in the absence of those who had played in the Premiership final, struggled to find their rhythm as a French-dominated Baa-Baas team ran out worthy winners.

Classic England v Barbarians matches

Joe Cokanasiga, Jonny May and Marcus Smith crossed for the hosts, while the Barbarians points came courtesy of scores from Charles Ollivon, Damian Penaud (2), Louis Carbonel, Baptiste Couilloud, Antoine Hastoy, Max Spring and a penalty try.

Here’s five things we learnt from the Barbarians biggest ever win over England.

England still short of their fluent best

Eddie Jones was keen to assert that this match was “not England”, but rather an England XV.

The first-half showing in particular was someway short of Test level, with his side looking disjointed at times.

That the Barbarians scored two interception tries in the first period shows that England were not at their cohesive best, often trying to force a breakthrough rather than waiting for the right moment to strike.

The loss of Alex Dombrandt prior to kick-off was a blow and the forward pack struggled to dominate in his absence. Tom Curry was typically hard-working but support from elsewhere was not forthcoming.

There were tries for returning wingers Joe Cokanasiga and Jonny May but opportunities for the pair to attack were few and far between.

England were ultimately put to the sword against Fabien Galthie’s side and will hope that the Premiership final reinforcements can make a difference when they tour Australia.

Eddie Jones’ scrum-half conundrum goes on

Having been selected to start at scrum-half ahead of the more experienced Danny Care, Harry Randall did not exert the level of control he would have hoped, especially in his role as vice-captain.

A simple short pass to Callum Chick was given a bit too much fizz within moments of kick-off and led to a Barbarians scrum in a dangerous attacking position.

Another misplaced pass later in the first half put Marcus Smith in an awkward spot and forced the fly-half to kick for touch to avoid a serious loss of ground.

The Bristol man was withdrawn just four minutes into second-half and Care offered greater zip in his place. England prospered almost immediately with May darting over in the corner after Care’s smart link-up with club teammate Smith.

He played a big role in England’s third score too, passing blind to wing May who burst in behind before Smith crossed in the opposite corner.

Whether Jones sees Care as part of his long-term thinking remains to be seen, but it was an impressive cameo from the 35-year-old.

Tommy Freeman can push Freddie Steward

Just 24 hours prior to this fixture, Freddie Steward delivered a now customary fantastic Twickenham display.

The full-back was unconquerable as Leicester Tigers claimed the Premiership crown, and there were echoes of his performance in that of Tommy Freeman, on just his first England start.

The 21-year-old played a key role in England’s opening score, racing onto Smith’s offload in Steward-like fashion before tearing downfield and releasing Cokanasiga to score.

Also capable of playing as a 13, Freeman has been earmarked by some as a potential long-term replacement for Manu Tuilagi.

He may not be quite as imposing but is equally effective at breaking the gain-line with his rangy frame a nightmare for defenders.

This cap will surely be the first of many and if Eddie Jones does see Freeman as a 15 then Steward will have to watch out.

Smith can do it alone

A Marcus Smith-Owen Farrell axis would still appear to be Eddie Jones’ preferred combination ahead of England’s summer tour of Australia.

But in the absence of a second playmaker, Smith shone and was England’s brightest spark.

With Mark Atkinson playing outside the mercurial fly-half, England’s backline had a very Harlequins feel to it, with Atkinson in the Andre Esterhuizen role and Joe Marchant outside him.

The Barbarians are known for their unpredictability, but it was Smith who played with greater intrigue early on. He had licence to roam around the Twickenham turf and everything flowed through him.

While Smith provided flair, Atkinson offered punch. His aggressive ball carrying often required intervention from several defenders, freeing up room elsewhere and offering Smith a greater platform to attack.

He did, however, make the error for Barbarians’ third score.

Atkinson may or may not have passed his audition for a spot on the plane to Australia, but if he – or a centre of his profile – does travel, then England could have a reliable Plan B, something they have been accused of lacking in recent times.

George Kruis remains a fan-favourite

Despite having not pulled on an England shirt for two years, George Kruis’ impact as a Test player has not been forgotten.

The retiring second-row was given a rapturous reception when his name was read out pre-kick off and he provided a reminder of why he was once such an integral part of the England team.

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The former British & Irish Lion was a menace at the lineout and a constant threat with ball in hand.

It was a trademark performance from Kruis and all the more impressive considering he recently turned 32 and has been playing in the Japan League 1 for the past 12 months.

Before his day was done, he even managed to add three conversions – including a cheeky but successful back-heel attempt – as he finished his rugby career with a flourish.